The Reason Foundation this week released a study that documents the many unintended consequences of bag bans while exposing their ineffectiveness. The new research supports much of what the Center for Local Governance has previously expressed, most recently in an op-ed in the San Antonio Express News and a follow up blog post to that article. As it happens, many Texas cities have adopted, or are considering adopting, bans on disposable grocery bags.
But do they work? The Reason study, How Green Is that Grocery Bag Ban?, attempts to answer this question and more. Among the report’s findings:
1. The bans, fees and taxes on shopping bags have a minuscule impact on litter.
2. There is no evidence of a reduction in municipal litter or waste collection costs as a result of the introduction of bans, fees and taxes on shopping bags.
3. Other environmental impacts are not significantly reduced and some, including greenhouse gas emissions, may increase as a result especially of restrictions on the use of plastic shopping bags.
4. There is likely an adverse health effect from people failing to wash bacteria- ridden reusable bags, the use of which may increase as a result of restrictions on the distribution of other bag types.
5. Reusable bags are less convenient and, when taking into account the time and resources required to remove bacteria from bags, are very costly for consumers.
6. The costs of plastic bag bans fall disproportionately on the poor.
As with many government policies that purport to save the planet, grocery bag bans have had the opposite effect than was intended. They impose costs on consumers, create complications for small businesses, do little to impact litter, and negatively affect public health while failing to come close to achieving their stated objective.